Commissioners may use Cedar County ordinance as CAFO guide
A week before SB391 becomes law Wednesday, Aug. 28, Hickory County Commissioners say they will vote on a health ordinance which gives them authority to enforce locally determined regulations governing concentrated animal feeding operations. They are considering adopting a modification of the Cedar County health ordinance.
Hickory County and the northern part of Cedar fall in Mo. House District 125, currently represented by Warren Love, R-Osceola, who opposed local control throughout his seven years in office and voted for SB391.
More than 90 people filled the McCarty Senior Center Wednesday, Aug. 14, in Wheatland to learn what SB391 means to their lives: up to 17,499 hogs within 2,000 feet of a residence and an unlimited number of animals within 3,000 feet of a residence. SB391 prohibits counties from enacting regulations more stringent than state standards allowing CAFOs to spray-apply their waste 50 feet from property boundaries, 300 feet from any public drinking water well or water intake structure and 150 feet from a public use area. State standards require no setbacks between CAFOs and populated areas, no construction permits and do not regulate air quality for CAFOs with less than 7,000 cattle, 17,500 hogs, or 875,000 broiler chickens.
County resident Bill McBrayer organized the educational meeting and moderated the panel. He pointed out while agriculture is the main economic driver in Hickory County, tourism generates 70% of sales tax revenue. He believes CAFO waste runoff represents a significant threat to Lake Pomme de Terre and its tourism industry.
Darvin Bentlage, Barton County farmer and rancher, lives next to three hog CAFOs. He described weak responses of the Department of Natural Resources to violations of its own rules. He explained as owner of land adjacent to the CAFOs, he has no legal recourse to offensive odors, airborne particulate matter, flies or pathogens; in other words, no recourse for the loss of use and enjoyment of his property.
Bentlage and others believe the Missouri legislature determined corporate and foreign industrial agriculture and their CAFOs are more important than Missouri family farms and landowners’ rights to use and enjoy their property, even when the people owned the property prior to the CAFO. The statute categorizes CAFOs as permanent nuisances; it prevents compensation for non-economic damages. Bentlage noted Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa all have stricter CAFO regulations than Missouri’s.
Peggy Kenney, former president of Cedar County Farm Bureau and former Cedar County clerk, said Cedar County enacted its health ordinance in 2016 to mediate significant problems emerging after 54 chicken barns popped up in about 18 months without any permits. She said the courthouse was full of people expressing concerns five days a week; some threatening to burn people out and run people out of the county. The chicken barn owners were digging ditches to divert roof runoff straight into creeks. The majority of creeks in Cedar County are on the DNR-impaired list and Cedar County has an EPA air monitor. The chicken barns caused major wear on the county’s aggregate roads which were not engineered to handle the heavy semi-tractor trailer traffic. Semis sometimes block asphalt roads by stopping to navigate tight turns onto narrow aggregate roads, creating traffic hazards. Kenney said the county health ordinance works; not a single person who wants to build a CAFO has been prevented and the county sees continuous agricultural growth. Cattlemen cheerleading for SB391 are cheerleading against themselves, according to Kenney. She announced Farm Bureau’s just released five-year change in agricultural land value report with Missouri up 11% compared to Iowa, down 14%. Iowa has over 10,000 CAFOs and no local control.
Jessie Green, White River Waterkeeper and formerly a senior ecologist for the Arkansas Department of Water Quality, shared examples of state agencies’ reluctance to enforce regulations to protect water from CAFO contamination. For example, in 2016, she was assigned to look at data on Big Creek which flows into the Buffalo River and runs parallel to the Brazilian JBS hog CAFO. When she reported the data showed low oxygen and E.coli contamination, the state reinterpreted the assessment methodology for E.coli, essentially lowering the standard so the CAFO could continue to operate. Citizens began reporting unprecedented levels of algae in 2016. In 2018, with algae covering 70 miles, citizen scientists were the first to report harmful, blue-green algae in the first National River. After much media attention and citizen involvement, state and federal agencies confirmed harmful algae in the Buffalo River but failed to test for the main toxin of concern. The state recently reported it will buy out the Buffalo River CAFO for $6.2 million but it is still operating, creating 7,000 gallons of untreated waste daily which will pollute the Buffalo River, probably for decades. Green warned, “you cannot trust state agencies to protect you.”
Jeffrey Jones, Calloway County cattle and grain farmer, described living and farming next to a hog CAFO which recently moved in three-tenths of a mile from his house. About 10,000 sows raise about 250,000 hogs on 20 acres owned by an out-of-state CAFO corporation. In 2013, a hog CAFO spill sent 10,000 gallons of liquid pig manure through the city of Fulton; the CAFO was fined a mere $10,000.
Tim Gibbons, Missouri Rural Crisis Center communications director, said this is a fight for independent cattlemen. Why are legislators passing laws benefiting about 500 CAFOs, Gibbons asked, compared to laws benefiting about 100,000 family farms? Elected representatives should be taking steps to protect the property rights of the majority of family farmers and rural landowners, according to Gibbons, not just the small number of corporate-controlled CAFOs.
The Hickory County Commissioners are holding a public meeting, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at the Hickory County Annex, 18715 Cedar St., Hermitage. People who live in and around Hickory County are invited.